|An army soldier passes by a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a news program at the Seoul Station in Seoul, Wednesday. AP-Yonhap|
Experts say tension on the peninsula likely to persist
By Yi Whan-woo
By toning down the brinkmanship over South Korea this week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears to be attempting to see if the Seoul can convince the United States to ease sanctions on his reclusive state.
The sanctions, however, are likely to last as the world is unconvinced by the North's promises about denuclearization and as such the heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula will continue for the time being, according to international experts in email interviews.
|Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. special envoy for six-party talks with Pyongyang|
Formally ending the war was an element of the Panmunjeom Declaration jointly announced during the first Moon-Kim summit in April 2018. The North sees it as key to having the security of its regime guaranteed by the international community.
"I believe Kim Jong-un is waiting to see how South Korea and the U.S. respond," said Joseph DeTrani, a former U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks with Pyongyang and an ambassador for the National Committee on North Korea in Washington, D.C.
He referred to Kim suspending plans for "military action," Wednesday, which had been pledged by his younger sister and the North's de-facto second-in-command Kim Yo-jong in several vitriolic statements.
"Kim Yo-jong's criticism of the leadership in Seoul was, in my view, driven by the hope Pyongyang had that Seoul could convince the U.S. to provide some sanctions relief, especially now," DeTrani said, adding "North Korea believes that the ball is now in Seoul's and Washington's courts."
He hinted at North Korea's possible provocation if its wishes are not met: "When this doesn't happen, the North will be comfortable in saying the Panmunjeom Declaration and its commitment to peace, prosperity and reconciliation are dead."
Nah Liang Tuang, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, viewed the obscure stances of the two Kims toward South Korea as part of the brinksmanship tactics that form "cycles of coercion with the ultimate aim being regime security."
"Thus, the proverbial ball is in the U.S.' court," Nah said, adding, "It has to agree to the limited denuclearization for sanctions lifting package desired by Kim."
He reckoned that situation is "unlikely to happen" and that "strategic volatility on the Korean peninsula is likely to endure in the short to medium term."
Taro O, a fellow at East Asia Research Center and retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant-colonel, was skeptical about North Korea's denuclearization efforts.
"After all, North Korea is the one that has missiles that can reach South Korea, continues to practice invading South Korea, and has not changed its goal of unifying the Korean Peninsula under its rule," O said.
She noted that peace on the peninsula comes rather from deterrence through strength based on the South Korea-U.S. alliance.
The experts did believe that Seoul could proceed unilaterally on assisting the North under limited conditions.
"North Korea expects South Korea to do more, either in concert with the U.S. or unilaterally, to provide sanctions relief and/or economic assistance… However, it's important that the U.S. and South Korea, as close allies, stay united in our approach to and dealings with North Korea," DeTrani said.
Nah said Seoul should be free to implement diplomacy and establishing links with Pyongyang, including through humanitarian aid.
"However, as the Kim regime is fixated on sanctions lifting, exchanges without connection to what Kim ultimately wants will have to be temporarily suspended," he added.